IRL: IndyCar readies for historic race in Japan

IndyCar Series drivers, teams ready for historic race in Japan. MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, March 27, 2003 -- There have been many historic and memorable races in the eight-year history of the IRL IndyCarTM Series. Buzz Calkins winning the very...

IndyCar Series drivers, teams ready for historic race in Japan.

MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, March 27, 2003 -- There have been many historic and memorable races in the eight-year history of the IRL IndyCarTM Series.

Buzz Calkins winning the very first IndyCar Series race on Jan. 27, 1996 at Walt Disney World Speedway -- the debut of a new chassis and engine formula one year later at the same track -- any of the 29 races with a margin of victory of less than a second -- Sam Hornish Jr. and Al Unser Jr. racing side-by-side at more than 218 mph over the final 21 laps in 2002 at Chicagoland Speedway with Hornish winning by .0024 of a second. Those are just a few of the big moments that come to mind.

On April 13, 2003, another historic IndyCar Series moment will take place when the green flag drops on the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. It will mark the first IndyCar Series event outside of the United States.

But it will not be the first international event in series history. The Indianapolis 500 has been an international event since 1911 with the best drivers from all over the world attempting to gain one of the 33 spots in the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

The same cars and drivers that compete in the world's greatest race will now take the show across the Pacific Ocean to the 1.5-mile oval at Motegi, Japan.

Two immediate favorites to win the first IndyCar Series race in Japan are Michael Andretti, driver of the No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, and 1998 IndyCar Series champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack, driver of the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Each won at Motegi in CART, with Andretti winning in 2000 and Brack winning in 2001 with Team Rahal, the team he drives for the IndyCar Series.

Andretti's teammates, Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, and Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, also have experience at Motegi in CART, with Franchitti finishing second there in 2000 and third in 2002. Kanaan, who won the Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23 at Phoenix International Raceway and leads the points standings with 84 points, finished third at Motegi in 2001.

There is a strong Japanese connection to the Indy Japan 300, with Japan natives Shigeaki Hattori, Tora Takagi and Shinji Nakano driving in the event. Takagi will drive the No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, while Hattori will drive the No. 5 EPSON/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Nakano will make his first IndyCar Series start driving a Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Beck Motorsports. All three drivers have CART experience at Motegi.

In addition to that trio, rookie Roger Yasukawa, driver of the No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone, was born in Los Angeles but lived in Tokyo from age 6 to age 12. Also, Honda and Toyota, which are supplying engines to the IndyCar Series for the first time in 2003, are based in Japan.

One of the teams that uses Toyota engines is Marlboro Team Penske. But the most successful team in open-wheel racing history will head into Motegi with Alex Barron replacing two-time CART champion Gil de Ferran.

de Ferran was not cleared to drive for the event due to a back injury suffered in the March 23 event at Phoenix.

Barron, who will drive the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, finished fifth in IndyCar Series points in 2002 driving for Blair Racing and competed at Motegi twice in CART.

Barron's teammate, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, has three races under his belt at Motegi in CART and is second in the IndyCar Series championship standings, trailing Kanaan by nine points. The Indy Japan 300 will be the final race before the Indianapolis 500, as Castroneves will attempt to become the first driver ever to win the Indy 500 three consecutive times.

Scott Dixon, who won the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is third in points, has finished ninth in both of his CART races at Motegi. His team, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, competed in every CART race at the track from 1998-2002 and will field cars for Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, and Tomas Scheckter, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone. The race will be Scheckter's first race at Twin Ring Motegi.

Two-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, has struggled in the first two races of the season, finishing 10th at Homestead-Miami and 21st at Phoenix after an accident. Hornish, who is 17th in the points standings, tested Nov. 7-8, 2002 at Twin Ring Motegi, in preparation for the Indy Japan 300.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., driver of the No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, is no stranger to Motegi, having finished second there in 1998 in a CART event. Unser's teammate, 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp, driver of the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, is sixth in points and is looking to score his first win of the year.

Other drivers competing at Motegi include Felipe Giaffone, driver of the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, who is fifth in points, and 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 IndyCar Series champion Buddy Lazier, who has competed in a record 72 IndyCar Series events. Lazier, driver of the No. 91 Delta Faucet/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, finished 11th at Phoenix in his first start of the season.

His brother, Jaques Lazier, driver of the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, finished sixth at Phoenix while Buddy Rice, driver of the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, finished ninth.

Greg Ray, who won the 1999 IRL IndyCar Series championship, will make his 2003 debut at Motegi with the newly formed Access Motorsports, which he co-owns. Ray will drive the No. 13 Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone.

Besides Yasukawa, two other rookies are expected to race in the Indy Japan 300. A.J. Foyt IV, driver of the No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, is the 2002 IRL Infiniti Pro Series champion and grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt. Rookie Scott Mayer drives the No. 18 PDM Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

INDY JAPAN 300 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Indy Japan 300 starts at 12:30 p.m. (Japan time) Sunday, April 13. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 1 p.m. April 12.

IndyCar Series practice sessions start at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. April 11 and 10 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. April 12.

Japan time is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time (New York), 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (Indianapolis) and Central Daylight Time (Chicago), 15 hours ahead of Mountain Daylight Time (Denver) and 16 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time (Los Angeles).

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On the air: The Indy Japan 300 will be broadcast on ABC on a same-day basis at 1 p.m. (EDT) April 13.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) April 13 and the taped race broadcast at 1 p.m. The taped race broadcast also will be available at www.indyracing.com at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) April 13.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Indy Japan 300 are available by calling (011) 81 285 54 0080 or logging on to http://www.twinring.jp.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Buzz Calkins , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Shigeaki Hattori , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Scott Mayer , Chip Ganassi , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Al Unser , Jaques Lazier , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing